On October 17th, Melissa McKinnies, a prominent activist in Ferguson, Missouri, discovered her 24-year-old son, Danye Jones, hanging from a tree in a wooded area behind her home. A bedsheet was tied around his neck and his pants were down around his ankles, which a family member documented by taking photos that McKinnies later posted to Facebook.
“They lynched my baby,” McKinnies wrote in the post, which Facebook has since removed. “I’m sick and losing my mind, but I had to let the world know what they did to my baby!”
McKinnies and other members of Jones’s family believe he was murdered in retaliation for her activism during the Ferguson Uprising after Michael Brown was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson in 2014. But according to the St. Louis County Police Department, Jones’s death is being investigated as a suicide, though the case will remain active until the medical examiner, which is awaiting toxicology results, releases their final report.
At a press conference held on November 1st, McKinnies rejected the theory that Jones took his own life and accused the police department of not conducting a full investigation. McKinnies — who was joined by Jones’s sister, aunt, and uncles — said Jones was in good spirits and had plans to start his own real estate business.
“He did not [kill himself]. He would not do that. A mother knows her son. A mother knows her child,” McKinnies said. “He had a lot to live for.”
St. Louis County Police spokesman Shawn McGuire told CNN that when Jones’s family called 911, they reported a suicide, although that call hasn’t been released and St. Louis County PD does not maintain a public database of calls for service. McGuire said that detectives were investigating the case as a suicide after talking with several family members, and because there were no signs of trauma or foul play.
During the press conference, McKinnies dismissed these family members as “self-proclaimed,” saying they “chose to go against [Jones by] agreeing to what [the police] say he did.” She also blasted them on Facebook as “false, made up, pretend” and “chasing clout.”
“We didn’t mess with you when my son was here and most definitely aren’t now,” she wrote.
McKinnies also disputed the police’s claim that Jones’s body showed no signs of trauma, saying he had a “knot on his face”, bruises on his body and indentations on his wrists. McKinnies told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Jones had packed an overnight bag that was left on the home’s back patio, suggesting that he trusted and planned to go somewhere with the person who killed him. And at the press conference, she noted that Jones was hung by a sheet that doesn’t match any of the sets the family owns.
“The knots in the sheets, which did not come from our home, were Navy knots,” McKinnies said. “My son was not in any military, not a Boy Scout, not in any militia, none of that. No. No. We’re not in denial, we just know Danye.… My son was silly, he was happy, I know my son.”
Jones was extremely protective of his family, McKinnies said, especially over the last few months, after she received death threats via social media. While she acknowledged that she didn’t report the threats initially, McKinnies suggested that detectives had shown no interest in investigating their potential relevance to Jones’s death.
Reached for comment, the St. Louis County Police Department did not provide answers to Rolling Stone’s questions, but offered the following statement: “The investigation is still active, however at this point detectives are investigating the incident as a suicide based on evidence at the scene and other factors.”
The gruesome, and potentially symbolic, nature of Jones’s death and McKinnies belief that he was murdered in retaliation for her activism has reignited speculation about the mysterious deaths of three other Ferguson activists since 2014. For several years, there have been theories that all three were murdered because of their activism against police brutality. (McKinnies has not explicitly connected Jones’s death to these other cases.) The first was Deandre Joshua, 20, who was found shot in the head in November 25th, 2014 inside a burning car near Mike Brown’s apartment complex, on the same day a grand jury refused to indict Darren Wilson for Brown’s death. Two years later, in September 2016, another prominent Ferguson activist, Darren Seals, was also shot to death and left inside of a burning car. Both murders remain unsolved. In 2017, Edward Crawford — an activist who was photographed tossing a canister of tear gas away from Ferguson protestors — was found shot to death in the backseat of his car. Authorities ruled his death a suicide, which his family disputes.